Rugged Tales

Wherever my feet may take me…


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A touch of frost

Today we leave the tea-houses behind and start camping. We trekkers will be spending six nights under canvas; for the climbers it will be more like six weeks. I’m hoping my sleeping bag will be warm enough as the nights are pretty chilly even here at Pheriche (4,240m / 14,000ft). We awoke this morning to a thick frost on the ground, and a thick layer if ice inside our window. But this is balmy compared to Everest Base Camp, where it can get down to -18C (0F) overnight at this time of year, or indeed the summit, where -18C would be a warm day, and -40C (-40F) not unusual. The climbers are obviously substantially hardier than me!

The hike up from Deboche (3,820m / 12,500ft) in our shirt sleeves is now just a pleasantly warm memory. The valley was still lush as we headed up the valley to Pangboche, and the atmosphere was spring-like: the fields around the village were a bustle of ploughing, planting and fertilizing.

Spring planting of the potato fields in Pangboche.

Spring planting of the potato fields in Pangboche.

We payed a visit to the genial Lama Geshe in his home at the top of the village. Now a sprightly 81, he has been bestowing blessings on climbers and trekkers for many years, and duly tied a brightly-coloured sungdhi (string) around our necks. He presented each of the climbers with a personlised card of additional protective prayers, and one wall if his prayer room is papered with pictures of climbers holding up similar documents on the summits of just about every mountain in the area. I hope pictures of our group will be up there soon, and that the Lama will be bestowing his blessings for many years to come.

After a leisurely lunch in a sun-trap courtyard in the village of Shomare we resumed our ascent. As we crested a ridge the temperature immediately dropped and I was happy I’d left an extra layer on. In fact, I wished it had been two as we approached Pheriche in a freshening wind with the sun hidden behind the afternoon clouds.

A cool, cloudy trek to Pheriche.

A cool, cloudy trek to Pheriche.

Fortunately, although still cold, the sun was back in the morning and there were fantastic views for those of us who hiked the 300m (1,000ft) up to La Jung – the pass that separates Pheriche from nearby Dingboche.

A well-earned rest at the top of La Jung. (Left to right: Mingma Nuru Sherpa (behind), one of our guides Peter, Viki, Martin  and Julie).

A well-earned rest at the top of La Jung. (Left to right: Mingma Nuru Sherpa (behind), one of our guides Peter, Viki, Martin and Julie).

When I was here in 2009 we hiked up to this same pass from Dingboche and I took a tumble after slipping on the loose sandy scree and tripping over my trekking pole. Luckily I wasn’t badly hurt and this time I was luckier still and managed to keep my feet. Hopefully that’s a good omen for the rest of the trip. Or perhaps it’s just that since that earlier incident I’ve never walked with poles again!

Either way, I’m looking to stay upright despite the tougher terrain ahead as we head up to Lobuche Base Camp (4,880m or around 16,000ft) for the next couple if nights. Thermals on….

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Perilous paths

Whilst those climbing above Everest’s Base Camp will undoubtedly face greater challenges the trek is not without its hazards and we encountered a number of them on the way from Namche to Deboche. For the first half of the day the path wound gently round the hillsides, with great views of the mountains ahead.

A chorten errected in memory of Tenzing Norgay, with (left to right) Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam behind.

A chorten errected in memory of Tenzing Norgay, with (left to right) Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam behind.

This being the dry season, however, even the flat paths are very dusty bringing coughs and sinus irritations for the unprotected hiker. Most of the group walked with a Buff covering their nose and mouth to keep the dust out but I found that fogged up my sunglasses to the point of total blindness – more than a little risky on the narrow rocky paths. If I took my glasses off, however, my eyes immediately filled with grit. I didn’t try it twice! The climbers made the Buff-and-sunnies combo look effortless, but clearly the optimum arrangement is a technical skill that I will need more practice to master.

My feet also struggled in the thick dust, especially on the descent back down to the river at Phungi Thanga. My feet skidded out a couple of times – a challenge my balance barely met with my head slightly woozy from the altitude.

At one point the path passed below a suspension bridge. Not a problem…until a herd of dzopkios (yak-cow crosses used to haul items up and down the mountain) passed overhead. Stepping in dung from time to time is one thing but I was less enthusiastic about having some land on my head!

A couple of the group nervously eye the dzopkios overhead!

A couple of the group nervously eye the dzopkios overhead!

But the dzopkios were arguably less risky overhead than when I met them on a narrow section of path. As a small group approached I smartly stood to the side, remembering too late that I was supposed to have gone the other way – away from the drop-off to remove the risk of being knocked over the edge. The embarrassing prospect of a Darwin Award loomed in my mind, but fortunately the placid nature if the beasts (and, on closer inspection, the modest slope behind me) proved not to be so dangerous after all, leaving me happily still in one piece to tackle the steep 610m (2,000ft) climb to Tengboche. I felt I’d certainly earned the enormous, and very tasty, chocolate brownie, I put away in the bakery nestled beside the famous Tengboche monastery at the top.

Tengboche monastery (3,860m).

Tengboche monastery (3,860m).

From there, thankfully, it was just a short stroll downhill to our lodge at Deboche, a few flakes of snow drifting in the cooling air as we walked. We awoke to a light dusting (which quickly melted in the sun) and a much more relaxing day: toasting in the sun outside the lodge, watching the mountains appear and disappear again behind their cloudy covers, and the prospect of a trip back to Tengboche this afternoon to see the monks at prayer. Happily, today there’s not a peril in sight.